Dear Parents of Kids Everywhere,
There is not a single parent who thinks that their child is capable of murder. I have never in thirty years of practice heard a parent express this concern. Tragically, though, we know that yes teens do kill. And, during the past few years school shootings have captured the headlines of terrified parents and children all over our country. It is time to think of our kids as being capable not only of wonderful things, but also of taking the wrong path and possibly having their lives go terribly awry. We need to keep our collective eyes and ears open as our kids are negotiating the teen years. It is an understatement to say that these are difficult years for the adolescents. They can be treacherous years.
Don’t get me wrong. I love working with teens. I love their honesty and intensity. I am a cheerleader for them. I am not here to say that teens are all potential monsters. Instead, I want you to look out for them and make sure that their lives don’t take a very wrong turn.
Here is what you need to look out for:
1. Is your teen suddenly isolative and do you have little idea of how he is spending long hours? If so, then do everything within your power to find out what your kid is up to. Yes, perhaps only a very small percentage are fascinated with reading about weapons and building them, but we all need to be on the lookout. And, if you find that your kids have developed this interest then talk it through with them, remove books on this topic and remove all access to explosives and weapons. And, let me take this one step further: do not allow them to hang around in homes where guns are available. I know that not everyone will agree with me, but there is absolutely no reason for the words “teen” and “gun” to coexist in a sentence or in any other aspect of life.
2. Do your teens have any past or current history of intentionally harming animals? This seems to
be a common theme in the history of many murderers. They cross the barrier of life and death by harming animals and then are at higher risk to harm humans. If your teen has any such history then not only do you need to put a clear end to this but you must get your child into therapy. No, it is never developmentally appropriate to harm family pets, stray cats, etc.
3. Is your teen socially marginalized? Does your teen have few friends? Is your teen being bullied, tormented or ignored by other kids? If so, then step in and step in quickly. Find out when, where, why and how this is happening. Do not ignore this. Social marginalization is frequently present in the life stories of teen school shooters.
4. Does your teen lack empathy? Have you taught your children about the concept of empathy? If your child seems to lack the ability to understand the impact of his or her behavior on others then that constitutes a lack of empathy. Consider getting your teen some help learning this skill. It is impossible to lead a good life without this skill.
5. Make it clear to your teen that your home is a weapon-free home and that feelings should be expressed via language not by killing machines. Perhaps you own guns. I highly recommend that you re-think the impact and message that this may have on the kids that you are raising.
There is no one clear set of warning signs that is definitive, but this is a good start. Please get back to me with more thoughts.
Thank you for reading,